Two powerful tribal chiefs in Yemen on February 26 joined opposition forces demanding the ouster of the country’s longtime president, a new sign the embattled leader might be losing his grip on the impoverished, conflict-ridden country. The defections were a blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh because the chiefs abandoning him are from his own tribe, the Hashid. That was a signal that he may not be able to capitalise on tribal rivalries to maintain power, a tactic he has successfully employed in the past. Tens of thousands of protesters, from both the Hashid tribe and Baqil, the second largest tribal federation in Yemen, took to the streets in Emran, a tribal stronghold north of Sanaa to denounce the president and demand his ouster. In a speech to the protesters, Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah Al-Ahmar, a key Hashid leader and a longtime ally to Saleh, said he is resigning from the leadership of the ruling party. “I call on every honourable Yemeni to work to topple the regime” said Al-Ahmar to the applause of the protesters, many carrying weapons. “The regime should go and be replaced by state institutions.”
In a separate statement on February 26, Mohammad Abdel Illah Al-Qadi, a key leader of the Sanhan, a Hashid affiliate and a longtime bulwark of Saleh’s regime, said he was resigning from the ruling party. Since coming to power some 32 years ago, Saleh has relied heavily on his tribe and its connections for support.